Friday 07th October 2016But is it Art?
Sometimes it feels like after the number of articles we've written entitled 'But Is It Art?' or some variation thereof, we should just go ahead and make it a series like our Artist Spotlight. There are a number of interesting issues involved in the whole question and there surely is enough material to make an interesting series, but sometimes the question can seem a bit tiresome and should really just be answered 'Yes - now stop asking'.
In today's iteration of the theme, we're going to take a closer look at art by animals. Yes, not art depicting animals, but actually created by them. An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post recently by an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and while it certainly provided an interesting and engaging look at some of the more prominent animal artists of the last half century or so, the one thing it absolutely failed to do was answer the question 'But is it art?'.
Understandably, the author comes off as rather ambiguous about which way to answer the question, deciding in the end for the old standby, 'it depends on your definition'.
"If art is in the eye of the beholder, then Congo’s sweeping blazes of color can rival those of Jackson Pollock. If your notion of art is an exterior expression of an inner self, then maybe Chandra the Oklahoma City Zoo elephant’s paintings reveal less about her subjectivity than, say, how she might communicate through sounds and movement as the matriarch of a group of elephants in the wild.
But for primates such as Washoe, a chimpanzee who was raised like a human child by American scientists and died in 2007, the case may be different. Like Washoe, a few other primates have lived bicultural lives in human worlds as the subjects of language and cognition research, and can “talk” to us through signs and symbols. We may see something different in their creations, especially when they can title them themselves."
I think it's time that we disregard the equivocation and accept that no matter which way you go, there will be someone prominent and respected who disagrees with you, and therefore you're not helping yourself or anyone else by sitting on the fence about this - and certainly not the animals, unless you argue that any exposure they get is likely to increase the sales of their work and thus increase the fundraising ability of their parent zoos.
In short, yes, it is art. Whether it is a cross-species collaboration or not.
(Photo credit: Piece by Congo, photo by Bonhams/AP)
Posted on October 07th 2016 on 08:24pm
Wednesday 23rd September 2015Artist Spotlight: Naruto
Many people have conducted experiments on animal behaviour and psychology by offering them artistic supplies and seeing what the animals make of them. You've likely heard about the painting elephants and apes that seem to demonstrate the capacity for abstract thought and representation, although the academic jury is technically still out on whether or not these events constitute true abstract representation.
Now before you get completely confused, this latest edition of Artist Spotlight isn't about the anime series Naruto, but rather about a monkey - a crested macaque, to be precise. Still confused? You're probably not alone there.
Wildlife photographer David Slater was visiting a wildlife preserve in Indonesia several years ago, when he happened to leave his camera briefly unattended near a crested macaque - probably not the smartest move in and of itself, but something rather extraordinary happened. The monkey, named Naruto by the park staff, picked up Slater's camera and snapped a few selfies. Slater then published these photos as a part of his book titled 'Wildlife Personalities', and the craze of so-called 'monkey selfies' was born.
Things have recently taken a turn for the absurd, however, as the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Naruto, arguing that Slater cannot claim ownership of the photos in question, as they were technically taken by Naruto, not Slater. Whether or not this lawsuit has any legal merit whatsoever has yet to be determined, but this isn't the first time the photos have caused legal trouble. In 2014, the online media repository Wikimedia refused to remove them from their own archives, on the grounds that nobody could technically claim ownership of the photos, as they were taken by a monkey.
Slater, for his part, seems to have wanted to do the right thing from the beginning. He has actively worked with PETA in the past, and is somewhat baffled by their decision to pursue this legal avenue. "Had [PETA] contacted me I would support them in efforts to get animals recognised legally with an aim to promote animal dignity. Sadly they choose to attack me personally in this ridiculous way which puts me under more financial and emotional stress."
No matter how you feel about the case, it's hard not to appreciate seeing the phrase 'monkey selfies' appearing in an official court brief. Thanks for the laugh, PETA.
Posted on September 23rd 2015 on 03:39pm
Friday 12th September 2014Animal Artists
No, we're not talking about artists who portray animals in their works, but actual animals who have become artists. For those of you who scoff at the idea, take note: the most expensive piece of work ever sold by (on behalf of, perhaps) an animal artist was a piece done in the 1960s by a chimpanzee named Congo - which sold for over $26,000 dollars. Certainly nothing to scoff at!
This, of course, is something of an outlier - on a list of the top 8 sale values from animal artists published by Macleans magazine, Congo ranks first, but the 8th highest value was only $370. Still, fairly impressive considering their lack of speech must surely inhibit the public perception of their work, and more than many artists sell their works for!
The list includes the following artists: Congo the chimpanzee, Ruby the elephant, the orangutans of Krefeld Zoo (presumably an artist collective), Metro the horse, Mini the cat, Arbor the dog, Big Cats of Tampa, and the adorably named Pockets Warhol the monkey. Even among those who are willing to consider the possiblity that animals have the level of self-awareness and cognition to actually be considered artists, the sheer variety of species that have claimed the title artist is rather astonishing. It may even be enough of a surprise to reconsider the role that animals appear to play in our worldview. The phrase 'mindless animals' suddenly seems rather naive and ignorant, when you consider the possibilities of animals gifted with the power of abstract thought and the ability to express such thoughts.
Naturally, not every animal from each of the species listed above is likely to manifest such talents, but that's not really very differenty from humanity. Some individuals excel at certain areas, and some excel in others - you wouldn't expect a polyglot to also be a fantastic artist, nor would you expect a K9 unit shepherd to be a canine Cezanne.
If you're stuck on inspiration and you have a pet, why not experiment with giving them the paintbrush and canvas? Naturally, only certain types of media are suited to animal dexterity, but with a little bit of a creative thought, you might unlock a wholly unexpected dimension to your favourite furry friend - not to mention discover a whole new way to express yourself in a new type of medium.
Posted on September 12th 2014 on 11:50pm
Wednesday 16th October 2013Don't Miss This One-of-a-kind London Exhibit
One of the most intriguing art shows to hit London this year opened recently at south London's Gallery on the Corner, with a very special goal in mind - and showcasing some very special artists. Each of the more than 30 artists being showcased are all of the canine variety, and each has created a special series of minimalist masterpieces for sale, with the proceeds going to the aid of the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, a nearby rescue shelter.
The art world has always been fascinated by animals who paint, from the great apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees to elephants and even cats - but the organizers of this show, Tom Webber and Tom Lakeman, have put together the very first British exhibition of canine artworks. Each piece is available for sale, with a framed original work costing £100, with the full proceeds going to aid the rescue shelter. First opening night was October 11, and over 140 art buffs (and in many cases, their canine counterparts) stopped by to appreciate the works and help out the shelter.
In order to create their masterworks, the dogs were each given a well-stocked food bowl, complete with oil pastel surreptitiously attached to the side. The entire setup is placed on a piece of blank paper, and as the hungry pups chow down on their meals, the bowl is pushed across the paper in various stylish sweeps of line. The final pieces are decidedly minimalist, but also - perhaps a touch unexpectedly - quite appealing in their enthusiasm. Naturally, the more excited the dog is about its meal, the more expressive and dynamic the final piece will be.
The show only runs until October 20th, so be sure to swing by if you're in the neighbourhood and see these truly unique creations. The gallery is also dog-friendly, so be sure to bring along all your canine friends - and for an extra special treat, they can create their own masterpieces right there in the gallery! If you happen to find a framed piece you really enjoy, remember that all the funds raised go straight to the aid of the rescued animals at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
Posted on October 16th 2013 on 12:04pm